A smart DM equips their campaign with all-terrain tires, for when things inevitably go flying off the rails and into oblivion. A smart DM also doesn’t overindulge in adult beverages when running a game, even when his players continuously ply him with more (I’m looking at you, Whiskey Sour guy). When a DM finds himself dealing with the consequences of not being smart last time, it can end up in interesting places.
Our most recent session of Gloriana opened with a “Ok, what the hell actually happened last time” recap. We were all a bit hazy on the details, aside from an incident with a stick of butter that almost ruined somebody’s shirt. I’d spent the last few days preparing the next step of their adventure, plot hooks that would grab nine different characters with their own plot lines and try to draw them all together in a motivating fashion. Unfortunately, one of my plot hooks depended on a piece of backstory that I had flat-out wrong.
“Oh no, the whole town drank cursed ale and now they’re all turning into mushrooms! We have to do something!” is a strong hook for heroic characters. I had my details wrong, though–the stolen ale did NOT have the cursed mushrooms in it (long story), because that was the purview of one of my players and his backstory. I assumed details, I had them wrong, and now I had to make a case for my adventure without that hook (and I had a bunch of content prepared specifically for the cursed-mushrooms questline that might now go to waste).
Fortunately, having a massive party meant I’d already tried to cover as many bases as possible. Every time I start writing up an adventure I begin with a list of my characters and their motivations, and try to make sure the adventure has SOMEthing for everyone. In this case, I’d already set up the stolen ale as providing hints to some other plot threads (it was in another character’s caravan when it was stolen, etc). The player whose plotline I’d misread offered to do a retcon, but whenever a player actually has an opinion about their story, I always try to honor that–ANYTHING to make sure they’re invested and actually care.
Everything worked out in the end–they decided to visit the lair of the villain who’d laid the curse in the first place for unrelated reasons, so I was lucky enough to use that content. It also taught them that just because you’re nine well armed adventurers, you don’t necessarily get to solve all your problems by barging in.